Legislature(2003 - 2004)
05/08/2003 03:35 PM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 198-DAMAGES RECOVERED BY POLICE/FIREFIGHTER BRIAN HOVE, staff to Senator Ralph Seekins, read the sponsor statement into the record: SB 198 revises the common law known as the Firefighter's Rule. This rule precludes firefighters and peace officers from recovering civil damages for injuries caused by any negligent act inflicted while on duty. The Firefighters Rule does not distinguish between negligent acts requiring the firefighters or peace officer's response from negligent acts that are unrelated to the reason the firefighter or peace officer was required to respond. For example, as currently employed, the Firefighters Rule precludes a police officer from suing for damages for injuries suffered as a result of being struck by a drunk driver during the course of transporting a prisoner to the courthouse. This despite the fact that the negligent act, in this case, the drunk driving, is unrelated to the duty the officer was performing at the time. SB 198 corrects this incongruity. Yet, on the other hand, this bill does nothing to change the case where the police officer is injured during the course of a pursuit of the drunk driver. This is considered a foreseeable risk associated with the profession and, accordingly, well within that which the Firefighter's Rule should cover. Therefore, SB 198 makes a distinction between negligence that is related to the reason the firefighter or peace officer is responding and negligence that is unrelated to the reason the firefighter or peace officer is responding. In the first instance, it does not allow a civil action. Instead the firefighter or peace officer must rely on the state's workers compensation system. However, in the case where injury was caused by a negligent act not related to the reason for the firefighter or peace officer's response, then - under this legislation - a civil action can be brought against the at-fault party. SENATOR JOHN COWDERY asked how many people might be affected by this legislation and what other states have done in this regard. MR. HOVE didn't have that information. SENATOR GRETCHEN GUESS asked whether the bill would be retroactive. MR. HOVE replied they had not discussed effective dates. SENATOR FRED DYSON asked who the personal representative is for peace officers. CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked Mike Couturier to join Mr. Hove at the table. MIKE COUTURIER, an Anchorage Patrol Officer, expressed support for SB 198. He said officers accept the inherent risks associated with their profession, but need recourse for accidents and injuries that are unrelated to the job they are performing. He told a story about an officer that was critically injured by a drunk driver while enroute to a call. Because of the Fireman's Rule, he was unable to recover damages incurred as a result of that traffic accident. Peace officers and firefighters shouldn't have to give up their rights as citizens when they are working. These are infrequent occurrences and would not cause a large increase in litigation across the state; the bill would simply take care of the exceptions. SENATOR GUESS asked the committee to entertain two points: · Whether the bill should be retroactive to 2000 · That the effective date should be immediate SENATOR JOHN COWDERY commented that glitches in law should be corrected. CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked whether insurance coverage entered into the discussion. MR. COUTURIER advised it did to a certain extent because taxpayers are paying for acts of neglect. MIKE FOX, retired state trooper and employee of a Public Safety Employee Association, testified in support of the bill. WILL AITCHISON, attorney for the Anchorage Police Employees Association, testified via teleconference in support of SB 198. The Fireman's Rule stems from old rules regarding liability when someone is doing business on your property. It evolved to the point that police officers and firefighters had no right to recover from a negligent third party when injured on the job. A number of state legislatures have statutorily repealed court decisions that adopted this type of rule on the theory that the negligent wrongdoer, not the public, should bear responsibility for their conduct. The Firefighters Rule was adopted in a case involving the Dillingham chief of police, but the Alaska Supreme Court didn't define the confines of the rule and there are several. SB 198 adopts the Firefighters Rule statutorily, but makes a distinction between negligence that is related to the reason the firefighter or peace officer is responding and negligence that is unrelated to the reason they are responding. In response to Senator Cowdery's question, he said these cases have been infrequent in Alaska. With regard to Senator Dyson's question, he said the personal representative refers to peace officers and firefighters who have died in the line of duty and in those cases the personal representative would be the executor of the estate. CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked him to comment on the effective date and whether it should be retroactive to 2000. MR. AITCHISON said the bill is written to be effective on July 1, but he doesn't see why it should be then. Also, the way he reads the bill it would be retroactive to an existing claim. SENATOR COWDERY asked if the state would assume additional costs with this change. MR. AITCHISON opined there would be a cost reduction to the state. CHAIR GARY STEVENS pointed out that page 2, line 5 makes the law applicable on or after the effective date of the act. SENATOR COWDERY asked what is typical in other states. MR. AITCHISON thought this was the most common form. Other states are split. Some have a more intensive rule and some have no rule whatsoever. SENATOR DYSON asked if the bill would allow for just the negligent party to be sued and not a deep pocket. MR. AITCHISON replied the bill only allows lawsuits against those who are negligent and only where the negligence is independent of the reason that the officer or firefighter is responding. SENATOR DYSON asked for verification that SB 198 wouldn't allow an injured officer or firefighter to collect twice for medical bills or lost wages. MR. AITCHISON said there would be an obligation to pay back the state or whoever paid the medical bills. SENATOR DYSON asked if pain and suffering, payment for loss of future earnings and punitive damages would go directly to the injured worker. MR. AITCHISON replied they would. SENATOR DYSON asked how to modify the bill to make it retroactive. MR. AITCHISON replied you would remove the applicability clause. SENATOR GUESS stated she would like to remove Sec. 2 and make it effective immediately. CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked the sponsor's staff to respond to the proposed change. MR. HOVE said he had no problem with the change. SENATOR LYMAN HOFFMAN commented [indiscernible}. MITCH GRAVO, attorney and lobbyist for the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association, testified they would support the amendment. SENATOR GUESS made a motion to amend the bill to remove Sec. 2, lines 3-6 on page 2 and make a new Sec. 2 to make the effective date immediate. CHAIR GARY STEVENS called for a roll call on Amendment 1. Senators Hoffman, Cowdery, Dyson, Guess and Chair Gary Stevens voted yea. Amendment 1 passed unopposed. SENATOR DYSON made a motion to move CSSB 198(STA) and attached fiscal note from committee with individual recommendations. There being no objection, it was so ordered.